How to help your teen create healthy social media habits

Public health experts are sounding the alarm over the potential risks of social media usage and teen mental health. More teens are depressed and the U.S. Surgeon General’s advisory issued in May 2023 indicates that social media may be playing a role.

Findings from the Pew Research Center show nearly all American teens go online to engage with their peers every day and half report going online almost constantly. At the same time, nearly three in five teen girls report feeling so sad or hopeless, they can’t participate in daily activities. The CDC says it’s the highest percentage of teens experiencing these feelings in the past decade.

“You’re online, absorbed into another world, very blurred from reality. And you could be on it for indefinite periods of time, the phone is so addicting that people can’t be without it,” said Dr. Scott Krakower, a New York-based psychiatrist.

He says some teens spend between six and eight hours a day on screens, much of it on social media.

The good news: The American Psychological Association reports that teens who did cut their social media use by 50 percent for a few weeks felt better about their weight and overall appearance.

CONSUMER REPORTS: How to use parental controls on a smartphone

Controlling when and for how long apps are used can play a part in creating healthy habits.

“Both iOS and Android offer pretty robust parental controls, so if you don’t want your teen using a certain app, you can go into settings and say, ‘I don’t want this app being used between 8pm and 9pm,’” explained Consumer Reports’ Nicholas de Leon

Shutting off the Wi-Fi is also an option. Here’s a general guide:

  • Find your router’s IP address and access the admin controls.
  • Look for a time scheduling or parental controls section. There you can set up a Wi-Fi schedule for your devices.
  • Remember you can set up all devices in your home to follow one schedule or set a different schedule for each device.

Parents can also establish tech-free zones in certain rooms or during specific periods of the day. Also, modeling the kind of behavior you want to see in your child can lead to some positive changes, and limiting screen time can pay off.